A Lot of History: the Evolution of the Parcel 5 site

The once empty lot now known as Parcel 5 has been experiencing a rebirth as of late as yoga classes and DJ nights have taken root at the site, which will soon also host RPO concerts and Rochester Fringe Festival performances.

From: City of Rochester map, 2021.

This central plot of land has been a significant site for much of Rochester’s history. Before the city was even incorporated, the block of East Main Street between Cortland and Elm (now Andrew Langston Way) was already a hub of activity.

In 1824, just seven years after the village of Rochesterville was established, Erastus Granger erected the Farmers’ Hotel on the southwest corner of Main and Elm. The sizeable hostelry, which was outfitted with a stable in the rear, soon gained a favorable reputation among farmers across the Genesee Valley.

The Farmers’ Hotel ca. 1893. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Situated along the route of a major stage line, the inn proved convenient to farmers and other travelers making their way through town, while its central location at the “Seven Corners,” (what now comprises the area near the Liberty Pole) helped it become a favorite gathering place for locals in the village’s nascent years.

The Farmers’ Hotel marked on this 1851 map by the name of then owner J.J. Chappell. From: Plan of the City of Rochester by Marcus Smith, 1851.

Ownership of the Farmers’ Hotel switched hands a number of times over the course of the nineteenth century, but as one Democrat & Chronicle reporter opined in 1886, it remained the “only hotel in Rochester perhaps which has maintained its moral characteristics to a degree, and which still has about it the aroma of the country tavern and village inn.”

The aforementioned aroma was no doubt influenced in part by the horses stabled beside the inn. It is possible that the journalist in question felt the need to qualify the hotel’s moral characteristics due to certain colorful incidents that were known to have unfolded at the site. On one night in 1880, for instance, a guest from Wayne County “while crazy drunk in the dining-room” drew a revolver on the wife of then proprietor, Alderman Charles Watson.  

A circa 1874 advertisement for the hotel. From: City of Rochester Directory, 1874.

Fortunately, she did not suffer any injuries, and the incident seemingly did not deter her husband, who maintained ownership of the business for several years. The time-worn structure eventually closed its doors in March of 1893, by which time the site was being eyed as an ideal location for a new commercial building.

The following year, a four-story edifice with more than 50,000 square feet of space opened its doors to the public as the headquarters of the carpeting and drapery firm, Gorton & McCabe. As one satisfied customer remarked on the store’s first day, “the entire establishment is a credit to the city of Rochester.”

A circa 1895 ad for Gorton & McCabe, who erected their building on the future Parcel 5 site in 1894. From: Democrat & Chronicle, April 11, 1895.

The impressive business was nevertheless overshadowed by its successor, McCurdy’s. Originally known as McCurdy & Norwell (after early partner, William Norwell), the venture began as a dry goods store in 1901. Its founder, John Cooke McCurdy, was a Northern Irish émigré and former Philadelphia department store owner. He launched the new business in Rochester to relieve himself of the boredom that had plagued his retirement.

A postcard depicting the McCurdy & Norwell store along a busy stretch of Main Street in the early 1900s. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

McCurdy’s soon became a fixture of Rochester’s downtown landscape and as business boomed over the course of the twentieth century, so too did McCurdy’s footprint. The building underwent several expansions till it swallowed up much of the block that now constitutes Parcel 5.

The McCurdy & Norwell store took up the northeast corner of the Parcel 5 site in 1910. From: City of Rochester Plat map, 1910.
By the 1930s, the store had expanded substantially. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.
By 1950, McCurdy’s covered much of the future Parcel 5 site. From: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1950.

By the time of McCurdy’s 50th anniversary in 1951, the sprawling store featured 150 departments that peddled everything from toys and clothing to furniture and major appliances.

That decade, downtown department stores across the country began facing growing competition from the lure of suburban shopping centers and the ample free parking they provided patrons. Recognizing this trend, but not wanting to abandon the center city, store executives Gilbert and Gordon McCurdy, along with Fred Forman of nearby retailer B. Forman’s, devised a plan for an indoor shopping mall that would simultaneously encase and showcase their respective flagship stores.

Exhibit Q: a scale-model of the entire mall! McCurdy’s is located on the northeast corner of the lot. From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 26, 1958.
The McCurdy’s entrance on the day of Midtown’s opening in 1962. From: Democrat & Chronicle, April 10, 1962.

It was hoped by many that Midtown Plaza, which opened in 1962, would serve as an anchor that would ensure the future economic stability and social vitality of Rochester’s downtown. By the following year, 90% of the mall’s stores had been rented out. But despite this promising start, both Midtown and McCurdy’s witnessed their customer base increasingly gravitate to suburban retailers in the ensuing decades.

McCurdy’s and Midtown decked out for the 1988 holiday season. From: City of Rochester, 1988

McCurdy’s closed its doors in 1994 and Midtown followed suit in 2008. Though these departures represented a significant loss, the empty lot that was left behind has not only served as a multifunctional gathering place, but has also helped inspire a re-envisioning of Rochester’s downtown.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on July 29, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Scrap Book Collection: A Window into the Past

A unique way to take a glimpse into the past is by looking at scrapbooks. The Local History & Genealogy Division has a vast collection of scrapbooks, many of which feature newspaper clippings compiled by Rochester residents. A considerable number of these books are accessible online via our Digital Collections page.

The collection covers a wide range of subjects including WWI Servicemen from Rochester, the Rochester Red Wings, “Colorful Streets of Rochester,” and of course, famed Rochester residents, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

Some of the many scrapbooks housed in the Local History & Genealogy Division. From: Morry, 2021.

Another scrapbook deals with a unique, yet lesser known, resident of Rochester, James A. Hard. This is one of my favorite volumes in the collection because it helps put a human face on history, offering a window into the past via a series of newspaper clippings from 1941 to 1953.

Though most Rochesterians have probably not heard of him, James A. Hard, who was born in Victor, NY on July 14, 1841, was the last verified living Civil War combat veteran in the United States.

From: Democrat & Chronicle, March 13, 1953.

The scrapbook opens with a clipping celebrating the 100th birthday of Mr. Hard at a party thrown by the Rochester chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).  

From: Democrat & Chronicle, November 20, 1942.

Two of the other four Civil War veterans then living in Monroe County were among the attendees. There was no trouble seeing Hard’s cake as it was brilliantly illuminated by 100 red, white, and blue candles!

By the time James Hard celebrated his 103rd birthday, there were no longer any other Civil War veterans in Monroe County with whom he could trade stories. He was, however, very interested in the military careers of two of his great grandsons fighting in WWII. His favorite gift at 103? Cigars

At his birthday the following year, Hard remarked that he may be 104 but still liked to go to parties. He noted that his favorite pastimes were smoking cigars and listening to the radio.  

Party Hard. From: Times-Union, July 15, 1945.

A photo from the April 4, 1946 issue of the Times Union shows Hard feeding a bottle to his great-great-grandson. Imagine meeting that baby from 1946, now 75 years old in 2021, and being able to shake hands with someone who was held and fed by a Civil War veteran.

From: Times-Union, April 4, 1946.

In 1947, James A. Hard was the oldest living Civil War veteran in the entire country! Local Congressman Gordon Canfield made note of Mr. Hard’s milestone in a speech from the floor of Congress. At his 106th birthday party, the quick-witted veteran of Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg reflected that he would probably live to be an old man if he didn’t smoke so much.

As the number of candles on his birthday cakes grew, so did the collection of awards and accolades he amassed. In 1950, he was chosen to be the Grand Marshall of the Memorial Day parade for the second time.

From: Democrat & Chronicle, March 13, 1953.

That summer, as he approached his 109th birthday, Mr. Hard was featured in a series of articles in the Times Union that reflected on his long life and the historic events of his time.

From: Democrat & Chronicle, July 15, 1946.

Election day of 1950 saw Mr. Hard continue to exercise his right to vote, a right he first enjoyed in 1864 when he voted for Abraham Lincoln. When Hard turned 110 the following year, President Truman, a Democrat, sent a birthday greeting. This pleased the old veteran, but he quickly pointed out he had always voted Republican.

The local newspapers kept an eye on Mr. Hard. It was a great human interest story. His age and the era he represented fascinated readers. During the next year or so, his health faltered a few times, but the old soldier fought back, and his recoveries again made the papers.

Father Time finally caught up with the old warrior on March 12, 1953. Flags were ordered to fly at half-mast, and his flag-draped casket laid in state at the Masonic Auditorium. President Eisenhower sent his condolences to the family of the nation’s oldest Civil War veteran. Hundreds of people paid their respects as they lined the route of his funeral procession. James A. Hard was laid to rest in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

To learn more about this unique resident of Rochester who shook hands with General Grant and twice met President Lincoln, please go to:

http://www.libraryweb.org/~digitized/scrapbooks/James_Hard_scrapbook.pdf

-Daniel Cody

Editor’s Note: There is some contention regarding Hard’s birth year. Census data suggests he may have been born two years later than he claimed and that he had perhaps lied about his age in order to enlist in the Union Army. However, an 1843 birthdate would not have changed Hard’s status as the last surviving combat veteran of the Civil War.

Published in: on July 15, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Hi-De-Home: Cab Calloway & Family in Rochester

Local History ROCs! usually offers readers a jazz-themed post in late June in honor of the Rochester Jazz Festival. While that much-loved event is unfortunately not taking place this year, the tradition continues on our end, this time around taking a look at the Rochester roots of Cab Calloway and his family.

Cabell “Cab” Calloway III. From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 21, 1976.

While many Rochesterians have heard of the lauded bandleader (to be discussed in the second part of this series), less is known about his namesake father, who also made a mark on Rochester’s history.

Cabell Calloway Jr. (his more famous son was Cabell Calloway III) was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1878. Following graduation from Lincoln University–then the only all-Black college north of the Mason-Dixon line–he served as a clerk in a Baltimore law office, then transitioned to real estate.

After a music teacher by the name of Eulalia Reed caught Cabell’s fancy, the pair married in 1901. The couple had two daughters, Blanche and Bernice, before moving to Rochester in 1905 with Cabell’s brother Harry. It isn’t clear why the Calloways relocated to the Flower City, but it may have had something to do with the bleak state of Baltimore’s real estate market at the time.

Cabell didn’t have much luck in that line of work in his adopted hometown either and instead ended up working as a laborer and porter at various local establishments.

In 1906, seeking to ameliorate his lot and that of fellow African Americans in the city, Calloway decided to start a new branch of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, a fraternal organization of which he’d been a member back in Baltimore.  

From: Democrat & Chronicle, April 22, 1906.

On April 18, 1906, the Flower City Lodge No. 91 I.B.P.O.E. of the W. was formally established at Clinton Hall with 40 charter members and Cabell Calloway serving as Exalted Ruler. The order would later set up its headquarters at 285 Clarissa Street in the Third Ward (now Corn Hill).

The I.B.P.O.E. of the W. headquarters at 285 Clarissa Street. The property is now occupied by the Flying Squirrel Community Space. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

The roots of the I.B.P.O.E. date back to 1899, when the first such lodge was founded in Cincinnati as an alternative to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, which barred African Americans from membership.

Monthly dues provided Elks with financial assistance for illness and funerals, and served as a reliable means of insurance and security at a time when decent jobs and civic opportunities were limited for many African Americans.

The Flower City Lodge hadn’t been in place a fortnight when it was met with controversy. In May 1906, five I.B.P.O.E. members, Calloway included, were arrested when a member of the local white Elks, Dr. Richard Decker, complained that they were wearing badges bearing the elk head emblem of the latter organization, and that this represented a statute violation.

From: Democrat & Chronicle, May 26, 1906.

After the accused, led by Brother H. Davie Murray, were released on bail, the case was brought to police court. The I.B.P.O.E. brought in a lawyer from New York City, J. Frank Wheaton, who sought to use the case as an opportunity to affirm the rights of African Americans to form, and establish the rules of, their own organizations when they were excluded from similar white groups.

African American spectators, who represented about two thirds of the court’s audience, watched raptly as Justice Chadsey ruled in favor of the accused. He noted that the men had not worn the emblem in an attempt to collect aid, nor did they have the intent to deceive in any way. He further contended that no African American could conceivably deceive a B.P.O.E. member because the latter knew that Black men were prohibited from the order.

This legal victory was followed by another bright spot in Calloway’s life the following year when son Cabell Calloway III was born on Christmas Day, 1907.

The Calloway family in the 1910 U.S. Census. Another son, Elmer, would be born in 1912. From: U.S. Census Bureau (1910) Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910-Population.

The toddler hadn’t yet turned three when his father suffered an apparent mental break that was significant enough to merit mention in the Democrat & Chronicle.

On June 16, 1910, Calloway, whom the reporter described as being “bereft of reason,” climbed out on a pole of the Western Union Telegraph Company at Reynolds Arcade, then looped a bunch of wires around the building’s chimney and used them to launch himself through a skylight into the kitchen of the Columbia Rifle Club, where he had once worked.

The following morning, donning a dress coat and gauze shirt, he attempted to solicit subscriptions from passersby for an alleged fund to send two 70-year old men to Lincoln University. He then paid a visit to an Exchange Street saloon, where he indicated that he wanted to leave an order for 250 chauffeurs to report to him at the Central Bank.

After a friend discovered him on Main Street, Calloway was sent to the County Hospital for treatment. In June 1912, he and his family moved back to Baltimore, where he found work as a caterer.

Calloway’s listing in the 1913 Baltimore directory. From: R.L. Polk & Co. Baltimore City Directory for the Year commencing…1913. on Internet Archive. Accessed: June 28, 2021.

Sadly, the following year he was hospitalized again and passed away that October at the age of 35.

The following post in this series will trace the Rochester years of Calloway’s namesake son.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on June 30, 2021 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Military Presence in Rochester?

The events of January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. sparked many questions. Many revolved around the presence (or absence) of military personnel. The nation’s capital necessarily has military assistance available to maintain law and order, but are such services extended to all cities? Does Rochester have a military presence? The answer is yes, and the answer is full of history.

Local militaries in urban areas such as Rochester have served multiple purposes. One is recruitment. Another is protection.

The city’s location on Lake Ontario marked it as a potential target from foreign threats at certain points in its history.

The international maritime border between the U.S. and Canada passes through the Great Lakes. From: https://www.worldatlas.com/

This geographic proximity to Canada was critical during the War of 1812. At the time, the Genesee region constituted the frontier of American expansion, and had little organized governmental protection.

In May 1814, in order to defend themselves from the British, local settlers formed a militia. The armed residents, in absence of a professional military presence, prevented the British from landing at Charlotte and thus protected the surrounding area.

As America grew, so too did the presence of organized military organizations. By 1841, the Rochester City Directory listed several Military Departments. The 23rd Division Infantry of the New York Militia, commanded by Major General Hester L. Stevens, had the largest presence.

It consisted of the 46th Brigade Infantry, which included the Separate Battalion of Calvary, the Separate Battalion (Williams) of Artillery, the Williams Light Infantry, the Rochester City Cadets, and the German Grenadiers. The 46th Brigade in Rochester also included of the 178th Regiment of Infantry, to which the Irish Volunteers were attached.

From: King’s Rochester Directory and Register, 1841.

The Rochester Union Grays, also listed in the directory, were an unattached military organization formed in 1839, commanded by Captain Lansing B. Swan. The Union Grays operated out of a building on Exchange Street. This type of unattached, volunteer military organization was popular at the time and could be activated by the state or the federal government when needed.

Rochester Union Grays flag. From: https://www.cottoneauctions.com/

These early military units met and drilled at the North wing of the Center Market on Front Street and other locations throughout the City.

The location of the Center Market on Front Street is numbered 46 on this circa 1863 map by Silas Cornell. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

The Civil War intensified the need to organize men for military service. At the beginning of the war, the United States Army was very small. There was no draft in 1861 and Lincoln needed men fast. Rochester volunteers signed up with a variety of short-term units.

It was these types of organizations that helped to preserve the Union. One of the most famous of these Rochester units was the 140th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which fought at Gettysburg under Col. Patrick O’Rorke.

Col. Patrick Henry “Paddy” O’Rorke (1837-1863). From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local history & Genealogy Division.

Rochester’s military presence became more prominent and permanent following the opening of the Rochester Arsenal in 1868.

A circa 1890 image of the Rochester Arsenal. The (remodeled) building is now home to GEVA. From: the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Located at the corner of Clinton Avenue South and what was then Monroe Avenue (now Woodbury Blvd), the new Arsenal Building was home to the 54th Regiment of the New York State National Guard, including units from the 2nd Infantry Battalion, the 3rd Infantry Regiment, and the 3rd New York Volunteers, who served during the Spanish American War.

The New York State National Guard had outgrown the Arsenal Building by the turn of the twentieth century. A new facility, originally known as the State Armory, was constructed in 1905 on East Main Street. The massive structure was built to look like a fortress or castle.

An early twentieth century postcard of the State Armory at 900 East Main Street. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

The seven-story, visually intimidating 138,000 sq. ft. building provided ample space to train soldiers in Rochester. The edifice contained a 35,000 sq. ft. arena for drilling and parading and served as the headquarters to the Third Regiment of the Fourth Brigade of the New York National Guard.

The building’s massive size lent itself to multiple purposes. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, Rochester used the Armory as a convalescent hospital for recovering influenza patients.

In 1916, the city opened an additional armory just south of the Erie Canal on Culver Road to serve as the new home of the 121st Calvary Division stables and training grounds.

The impressive-looking building contained offices, training rooms, a mess hall, saddle and supply rooms, as well as ammunition storage and an indoor firing range.

A member of the 121st Calvary inside the Culver Street Armory. From: the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, N.Y.

All three of these armories have since been repurposed as entertainment or commercial venues, but each contributed to the city’s military history and helped serve the Rochester community.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on June 10, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Digital Collections Spotlight: The Rochester Voices’ Vietnam Veterans Oral Histories Collection

The Vietnam War. The mere mention of this event evokes varied reactions. More than 58,000 American lives lost their lives during the conflict, which was very divisive for our nation.

Educators are faced with the challenge of how to present the history of the war. Even with all the best scholarly research and writing, certain gaps in knowledge exist. Oral histories can help bridge this gap.

While books and documents can capture information, data, and analysis, oral histories help capture the emotions of history through the inflection of voices, cadence of speech, and words spoken. The interviewee and the listener create a one-to-one relationship that books strive for. Oral histories are vital tools in the collecting, preserving, and presenting of history. 

Vietnam, the site of the prolonged war which lasted from 1955-1975. From: Googlemaps, 2021.

The Vietnam Veterans Oral Histories Collection on the Rochester Public Library’s Rochester Voices website is an amazing tool to help historians, educators, students, and laypeople understand this complex period in American history.

Comprising 68 interviews, the project was a collaboration between the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 20, the Office of the City Historian, and the Monroe County Historian’s office. The collecting of the interviews was in itself unique as they were mostly conducted by students from St. John Fisher and Nazareth Colleges, who were born long after the war ended. 

The logo of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. From: https://www.vva20.org/index.php

The 67 young men and one young woman interviewed open up and share their military experiences for all to listen and learn. The interviewees represent a cross section of veterans from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the Air Force. A running theme throughout their conversations is the controversy surrounding America’s involvement in the war.

A sample interview from the Rochester Voices Vietnam Veterans Oral Histories collection. Interviews are searchable by the time period discussed. From: http://www.rochestervoices.org

The interviews are about an hour long each and start off with basic questions to help build a composite of who the person is:  birthplace, basic education, family dynamics etc. Questions inquire as to their youthful aspirations, and their thoughts and beliefs about Vietnam prior to their military involvement. Military training is discussed as well as the deployment to duty stations. One Marine remembered, “a maniac DI, kicking trash cans and screaming at us to get up at 3am.”

Richard Switzer, of Greece, NY, leading the Rochester contingent of Vietnam veterans past the Washington Monument in 1982. From: Democrat & Chronicle, November 14, 1982.

All types of military experiences are featured in the collection. Combat is discussed frequently– the veterans talk about jungle warfare, the weapons used, the tropical heat, and the monsoon rains. One Army vet reflected on the process of being “climatized” to Vietnam. Some relate about being wounded and the aftereffects.

They detail their impressions of the people of Vietnam as well as a typical day “in country.” Sometimes the interviewees reveal very intimate thoughts and feelings. “If anyone says they weren’t scared in Vietnam, they’re lying. We were all scared of dying,” said one veteran. A very personal narrative emerges. One Marine stated quite clearly, “I was shocked at the reality of people shooting at me. It got very personal very quickly”.

In addition to describing combat, vets discuss their jobs as photographers, drivers, mechanics, technicians, medics, military police, “See Bees” (construction battalion), and other positions. The vets share their opinions and thoughts about their jobs, their comrades, their locations, and experiences both good and bad.

Experiences coming back to civilian life are also outlined, including some of the tragic consequences involved with this transition. One Navy veteran remembered, “getting the cold treatment. No one wanted to talk to me.”

The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Highland Park. Photo by David Mohney, 2006. From: City of Rochester.

Vets discuss their post-war lives and the long-term effects of the conflict. The scars of war, physical and emotional, are sometimes very deep and last a lifetime. One combat veteran sadly reflected, “I was a different person when I came home. I killed people and couldn’t get it out of my mind. I didn’t want it in my mind, so I drank a lot. I became an alcoholic and ruined relationships.”

Others share their opinions about the war itself, comparing their impressions as youths with their beliefs later in life. The collection of interviews runs the gamut of emotions, evoking both laughs and tears alike.

The Rochester Voices Vietnam Veterans Oral Histories collection is an amazing reflection of a young generation thrust into military service. It is a very personal conversation. This oral history truly reflects, and puts a human “voice” on, the good, the bad, and the ugly of Rochester’s involvement in Vietnam.

-Daniel Cody

Vietnam Veterans Oral Histories collection:

Vietnam Veterans Oral Histories

Published in: on May 27, 2021 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

“I’m wearing pants, ain’t I?”: the Colorful Life of Paddy Paddock

Rochester’s history is not without its characters. Some of the more recognized names include daredevil Sam Patch, patent medicine king/snakeoil salesman, H.H. Warner, and the spiritualist Fox Sisters. A somewhat lesser known curious figure from the Flower City is Herbert Leo “Paddy” Paddock, the Mayor of Front Street.

Paddy Paddock serving customers at The Big 27 on Front Street. From: the Democrat & Chronicle, December 26, 1948.

Front Street, as discussed in the previous two posts in this series, was for much of Rochester’s history, the city’s commercial center.

A section of Front Street, which once ran along the west bank of the Genesee River from Main Street to Central Avenue, circa 1943. From: City of Rochester.

As indicated in the second part of this series, Paddy Paddock served as the longtime manager of the Big 27, a restaurant and bar at 27 Front Street frequented by the downtrodden and downtown businessfolk alike. Paddock and the establishment’s owner, Tessie Krikszens, catered to the former population with annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, doling out additional free meals to those in need throughout the year.

Customers enjoying The Big 27 in the 1950s. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Beyond his time at the Big 27, Paddy Paddock lived a rather eventful life.

Born in Olean, NY in 1888, Herbert Paddock and his family moved to Rochester two years later following the untimely death of his father. His varied career began when he was only a teen, and found him working at a glass factory in Milwaukee as well as a bridge construction firm in Chicago in addition to a several-year stint as a flagman for the Buffalo, Rochester, & Pittsburgh Railroad, punctuated by his service in WWI.

In 1925, Paddock made the switch from railroads to the restaurant business, opening his own establishment on Genesee Street, before relocating to 503 West Avenue.

503 West Avenue, between Grover Street and Gardiner Avenue, where Paddock once ran an establishment. From: Plat Map of the City of Rochester, 1935.
The same site in 2021. 503 West Avenue is no longer standing. From: City of Rochester map, 2021.

As the local papers attest, Paddock was serving more than food fare at his Prohibition-era eatery, and suffered many raids at the hands of Federal agents, one of which landed him in the Monroe County penitentiary when he was unable to pay the $500 fine.

The dry decade also witnessed domestic distress for Paddock as both his ex-wife and spouse met tragic deaths less than a year apart. On Halloween 1927, his former partner was shot in the head by her uncle following an argument sparked by a request for a new outfit. Five months later, Paddy’s wife ended her own life by consuming a bottle of poison.

The tragic news headline regarding Paddy Paddock’s ex-wife. From: Democrat & Chronicle, November 2, 1927.

Paddock persevered following these losses but never remarried. He joined the Department of Public Works for a time in the 1930s, though the straight man gig seemingly did not temper his penchant for extralegal extracurricular activities. In 1937, he was busted for taking the tickets at a police-raided stag party featuring an indecent film.

Paddy Paddock was the ticket taker at this lewd film showing in 1937. From: Democrat & Chronicle, 1937.

By decade’s end, Paddy Paddock had taken the manager position at the famed Front Street eatery where he remained for over twenty years, only taking a break during WWII when he worked for the U.S. Army constructing docks and air strips in the Aleutian Islands.

Though his war experiences led him to far off lands, Paddock gained even greater travel experience as the executive vice-president of the Rochester chapter of The Knights of the Road, also known as the Hoboes of America. The position reportedly sent him to every state in the country as well as international destinations such as Panama, Finland, and Belgium.

Paddock with Hoboes of America president Jeff Davis, toting the Hoboes service flag. From: Democrat & Chronicle, August 19, 1942.

The somewhat itinerant Paddock nevertheless found a home on Front Street, a road replete with colorful characters. Elected Front Street’s Mayor in 1946, Paddy often paraded along the avenue shirtless. When someone reportedly asked him if it was undignified for a mayor to do so, Paddock quipped, “Undignified? What’s undignified about it? I’m wearing pants, ain’t I?”

Paddock was as well known for his stunts as he was for his sartorial selectivity. An expert tumbler, he was known to fling himself down a flight of stairs and then play dead until an unsuspecting soul received the fright of their life upon approaching him.

A Hemingwayesque incarnation of Paddock following WWII. From: Democrat & Chronicle, January 24, 1954.

His daredevilry also expressed itself in the consumption of oddities, such as dinner plates, coal, and light bulbs. As he explained to a Democrat & Chronicle reporter in 1954, “I will chew lightbulbs and other such articles occasionally . . . solely for the entertainment of my friends. I never intend to commercialize my art.”

Paddock took his art a little too far on one occasion when his oft-performed sleight of hand trick of swallowing ink didn’t go as planned and he landed himself in the hospital.

None of these freakshow-like feats proved fatal, however. After retiring as Front Street’s mayor in 1954, and leaving the restaurant business the following decade, Paddy Paddock spent the rest of his days at a veterans nursing home in Dundee, NY, and passed away in 1966, after a well-spent 77-year long life.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on May 13, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Lost Time is Found Again- A Hidden Gem Recovered

Back in March, Local History & Genealogy Division Clerk, Jordan Wallance, was going through our collection records to identify books that had been improperly catalogued when he stumbled upon an entry that gave him pause—an item simply labeled, “Autograph Book” in parentheses.

His curiosity piqued, Jordan searched for the item in our stacks and amongst the rows of books he uncovered a plain brown volume whose contents were anything but ordinary. Recognizing the book’s importance, he immediately shared his discovery with our Special Collections Librarian, Brandon Fess.

The item listed as: (Autograph Book) in our catalogue. From the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

Pasted within the book’s pages were letters and notes signed by a number of major historical figures of the mid-nineteenth century, including President Millard Fillmore and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney.

Autograph of Millard Fillmore,13th President of the United States of America. From:the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

The letters, dating from 1858 to 1860, were addressed to the book’s owner, Henry Fitch Huntington. Huntington would go on to become successful locally in both the banking and real estate industries, but had received each of these messages from American luminaries when he was only a teenager.

Henry Fitch Huntington’s home on the corner of West Avenue and Colvin Street. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1900.

Though today’s average teen probably isn’t champing at the bit for the signatures of Supreme Court justices, those of Huntington’s generation were well immersed in the practice of autograph collecting.

Autograph books first appeared in Germany and Holland in the 1500s as a way for college students to compile the signatures, notes, and sketches of their classmates and teachers—much like a yearbook. Academics also employed them to collect the salutations and contact information of their colleagues and acquaintances.

By the eighteenth century, the practice had migrated to the United States, and though many book owners continued to fill their pages with the inscriptions of friends and family, others began mailing autograph requests to more esteemed figures.

The collection that young Henry Huntington amassed between the ages of 14 and 16 offers an impressive vignette of American political and cultural life in the pre-Civil War era.

No less than four New York governors mark the book’s pages, including William H. Seward, who would deliver an impassioned anti-slavery speech at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall seven months after he sent his note to Huntington in 1858.

William H. Seward’s ca March 1858 message to Henry Huntington. From: the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

Other politicians lining the book’s pages include the diametrical figures of John C. Breckinridge–the Kentucky native who served as Vice President under John Buchanan before becoming the Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America–and Lyman Trumbull, the Illinois Senator who co-authored the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery.

A ca February 1858 letter from then-Vice President, John C. Breckinridge. From: the Collection of the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library.

The book also contains the names of individuals who were intimately tied to two of the major technological innovations of the nineteenth century, Erastus Corning, the first president of the New York Central Railroad, and Cyrus W. Field, who established the American Telegraph Company and laid the first telegraph line across the Atlantic Ocean.

Cultural figures also made their mark in Huntington’s book. The young celebrity seeker was apparently especially enamored with poets, as evidenced by the signatures of William Cullen Bryant (also a former editor of the New York Evening Post), Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The script of scribe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. From: the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

In amassing the autographs of these noteworthy figures, Henry Fitch Huntington may have just been following the fad of his day, but the collection he created effectively captures an era, offering a microcosm of mid-nineteenth century America. And thanks to our Clerk, Jordan Wallance, this unique time capsule has been recovered and will remain preserved and accessible to library visitors and researchers for years to come.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on April 22, 2021 at 10:30 am  Comments (1)  

Special Collections Spotlight: Robert N. Abbott

The Special Collections of the Local History and Genealogy Division are an amazing, yet lesser known treasure. The collections hold personal papers, records, manuscripts, and personal observations of times past. The rich history of Rochester can be uncovered through the primary documents of the city’s organizations and unique citizens.

One such unique citizen was Robert N. Abbott.

Robert “Bob” Abbott’s 1934 Madison High School yearbook. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

Mr. Abbott was born in 1915. After graduating from Madison High School, he worked for Eastman Kodak before joining the United States Army in November 1940.

World War II saw the need for a larger officer corps so Pvt. Abbott attended the Officer Candidate School, from which he graduated as a 2nd Lt. He was sent overseas in 1942.

While stationed in North Africa, Abbott was promoted to 1st Lt. and awarded the Silver Star. He earned his second Silver Star the following year while serving as a Captain during the Sicilian Campaign. Abbott was promoted to Major in late 1944, only four years after joining the service.

His gallantry under fire came with a cost–he was wounded three times. During his military career, the U.S Army awarded Abbott three Purple Hearts, four Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars, and a Cross for Conspicuous Service. He also received the Croix de Guerre from the French government.

Robert Abbott returned to Rochester following the war and married Winona McConnachie in February 1945. He became active in the local community, promoting Red Cross blood drives and War Bonds sales.

Robert and Winona Abbott in 1945. From the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

Abbott recognized a need to support veterans returning home. He became a Councilor with the New York State Veterans Administration in the fall of 1945 and was active in the local American Legion organization, serving as the Commander of the Loeser-Shaulan Post.

As he did in the military, Abbott quickly showed his leadership skills within the VA. In June of 1946, Abbott became the Director of the Veterans Information Bureau in Rochester. He resigned exactly a year later to re-enlist in the Army.

When hostilities broke out in Korea in 1950, Major Abbott was deployed as an advisor to the South Korean Army. In December 1950, Winona Abbott received a telegram informing her that her husband was reported missing in action.

Telegram dated December 6, 1950 informing Winona Abbott that her husband was M.I.A. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

It wasn’t until December 1951 that it was confirmed that Abbott was a prisoner of war of the Communist Chinese.

Winona Abbott learning that her husband was on a list of prisoners of war given negotiators. From: Democrat & Chronicle, December 19, 1951

Two years later on September 5th, 1953, the headlines of all the local newspapers proclaimed that Robert Abbott, now a Lt. Colonel and the most decorated soldier from Rochester in the last two wars, had been freed from captivity. Winona Abbott received a telegram from her husband the very next day.

Robert Abbott’s 1953 telegram to Winona following his release from the POW camp. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

The 33 months Abbott spent as a captive of the Communists fueled his drive to combat Communism for the rest of his life. He became a much sought-after speaker throughout the Rochester community, and gave numerous talks on his captivity, patriotism, and anti-Communism.

In March 1954, Col. Abbott was appointed as the director of the newly established Monroe County Office of Civil Defense (formed from the merger of the Monroe County and City Departments of Civil Defense). The organization was formed in response to the Cold War–fear of the Soviet Union was very real and there was a need to develop plans and procedures in case of a Soviet nuclear attack.

Lt. Col. Robert N. Abbott (center) upon his appointment to the Monroe County Office of Civil Defense. City Manager Robert P. Aex stands on the left, and County Manager, Clarence A. Smith, on the right. From: the Democrat & Chronicle, March 27, 1954.

Abbott’s fervent anti-Communism drove him relentlessly. By mid-1954, Abbott and his staff had created rules for the public to follow during the civil defense drills that were held across Rochester. The following year, Abbott witnessed a nuclear bomb test explosion in the Nevada desert. The massive damage and effects he observed furthered his intense drive to ensure the safety of Monroe County’s residents.

The Civil Defense office devised a massive evacuation plan for the City in the mid-1950s. Abbott also became a proponent of family bomb shelters. Throughout the rest of the 1950s and early 1960s, Director Abbott continued to improve plans and procedures which would protect the citizens of Rochester from a Communist attack.

Annual Report for the Monroe County Office of Civil Defense, 1959. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

Though his office was steeped in foreign affairs, Abbott later faced a crisis on the domestic front. In July of 1964, a racial uprising sparked by decades of inequality saw widespread violence erupt in the city. The NYS Police were summoned and Rochester became the first northern city to have the National Guard called in for an urban uprising.

Rochester Police Chief William Lombard sought out Abbott’s expertise. A decision was made to assess the damage to the city from the air and Director Abbott chartered a helicopter to survey the destruction. A pilot error caused the helicopter to crash into a house on Clarissa Street. The pilot and two of the home’s residents were killed. Abbott passed away a few weeks later from his extensive injuries. He was 49 years old.

Robert Abbott contributed so much to his hometown. His patriotism carried him through two wars where he earned numerous awards and his experiences as a POW drove him to excel in his efforts to protect the citizens of Rochester from a Communist nuclear attack.

Robert N. Abbott receiving the Croix de Guerre from the French government. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

To learn more about Robert Abbott from his papers, speeches, correspondences, newspaper clippings, and photographs, an online collection on the Rochester Voices website is available here.

To make an appointment in the Local History and Genealogy Division to peruse the Robert N. Abbott Collection, fill out the form here.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on April 8, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

500 Norton Street, pt. 4: Reflections on the End

A former Red Wings uniform. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

By the mid-1990s, serious change was in the air at 500 Norton Street. The improvements of Silver Stadium’s 1987 renovation had offered a short-term remedy, but the circa 1929 ballpark was beginning to show its age. Baseball as a business was changing at all levels and Rochester needed to keep up in order to hold on to its beloved team.

At the time, Major League Baseball parks around the country were becoming entertainment destinations—fans were coddled with new comforts, conveniences, and concessions. This trend soon shaped the minor leagues as well. Cities that previously had no professional baseball team promised fancy modern stadiums to potential franchises. As the Red Wings were the top farm club of the Baltimore Orioles, cities closer to Baltimore offered to construct brand new facilities to entice the Orioles to relocate their AAA affiliate. 

In the early 1990s, the International League initiated a study of its stadiums that looked at all aspects of the baseball game experience from the perspectives of spectators and players alike. The study of Silver Stadium was intensive and exhaustive and concluded that the venue was no longer sufficient to be the home of an International League franchise.

Baseball had outgrown 500 Norton Street. A new stadium was a requirement, not a request, for the Red Wings to continue to call Rochester home

A postcard of the aging Silver Stadium. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

Controversy immediately surrounded the future of the Red Wings in Rochester. Local media and residents all chimed in. Some did not believe that the IL was serious about pulling the franchise from Rochester. Others did not care if the city lost its team even though professional baseball had been in Rochester since 1877. However, many others in the community were passionate about holding on to the Red Wings.

Keeping baseball in Rochester created huge questions: where would the new stadium be built? What would the new aesthetics be? And, the largest question of all, who would pay for it?

After a massive public relations campaign, the proponents of keeping baseball in Rochester prevailed. A new downtown stadium was designed and approved by the International League. 500 Norton Street, in turn, would be torn down.

The N.E.T. (Neighborhood Empowerment Team) office moved into a former ballpark building at 500 Norton Street in 1997. Courtesy of City of Rochester.

RCB and Red Wing management devised ways to blend the spirit of the old venue with the new one, like transporting Silver Stadium’s historic home plate to the new ballpark. In a unique fundraising event, the Rochester community was given an opportunity to physically obtain a piece of their baseball memories from Silver Stadium.

In October of 1997, Scherrer Realty & Auctions presided over the auctioning of anything that could be carried away from the stadium. The auction catalog listed over 300 lots. Every part of the stadium was on the auction block. From the seats to the advertisement signs, from the concession stands to the bathrooms, from office equipment to field equipment, and from doors to uniforms, the effort was made to generate as much revenue as possible.

A circa 1936 scorecard from the auction. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

This author and his 12-year old son attended the auction. The audience was a cross section of the Rochester baseball community. Many fans brought their children and grandchildren. People were given free reign to explore the stadium before the auction and access to previously off-limit areas was now permitted. When the auction started, memories drove many purchases—nostalgia ruled the crowd.

We brought home a few physical memories that day. Eight red seats from a reserved seating section became seats on our pool deck. A turnstile, which counted thousands and thousands of fans over the years, now counts the people going into our backyard. A #18 Red Wing jersey, along with a 1936 Red Wing program now help tell Rochester baseball stories.

Former Silver Stadium seating. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

Some memories just can’t be bought–like the memory of the smell of the old stadium, which was a magical mix of cigarette smoke, popcorn, hot dogs, spilled beer, and fresh cut grass. Many people at the auction remembered their first sight of the pristine field upon entering the stadium and the unique experience of a first-time game under the lights. How many of those there that day remembered as kids running in the cinder-covered parking lot behind the stadium or running down the ramp from the top level after a game?

A well used turnstile from 500 Norton Street. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

When the auction was over, people lingered. Swaps and trades were made, and stories were shared. Many attendees reflected that this would be their last time at the historic site. A few went on the infield and scooped up a handful or two of dirt to take home. More than a few of us, for just a brief moment, relived the dreams we had as kids about playing professional baseball…We ran the bases at 500 Norton Street.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on March 25, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Time After Time: Carolyne S. Blount & about…time

Rochester’s history is rife with stories of innovative women who have made their mark in a variety of professional fields. In the realm of publishing, the most famous example is likely Susan B. Anthony, who, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, established the weekly newspaper, The Revolution, in 1868. A lesser known, but nevertheless significant figure from the field, is Carolyne S. Blount.

Carolyne S. Blount. From: Democrat & Chronicle, February 28, 2007.

Carolyne Scott was born in Richmond, VA in 1943. After earning library science degrees from Virginia State University and Drexel University, she began working at the library of Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD.

In the late 1960s, she took a position with IBM, where her husband, James Blount, was also employed. A job transfer led the couple to Rochester in 1970.

The same year that the Blounts made their new home in the Flower City, an ambitious trio of area residents, Peter Bibby, Gloria Winston, and Jim Sartin, had the idea to create a local African American magazine. They enlisted the help of advertiser John “Hank” Jackson to publish the periodical, which they named about…time, and put out the first issue in December 1970.

about…time’s introductory issue from December 1970. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Feeling that mainstream media outlets provided minimal or biased coverage of African Americans, about…time‘s founders established the monthly publication to serve as a voice of, and a forum for, the local Black community.

Carolyne S. Blount became the magazine’s editor, believing in the publication’s focus on unseen and unsung heroes, whom she deemed to be “the backbone of the community.” Carolyne and her husband James assumed ownership of the magazine in 1972.

about…time offered a blend of local stories and news items combined with features on pertinent national and international topics.

Local material included interviews with everyday people, recipes, and a “Poet’s Page,” showcasing the work of budding bards. In its early years, about…time also featured a directory of Black-owned businesses.

A directory of ca. 1970 Black-owned businesses from the inaugural issue of about…time. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Often, the magazine served as a corrective to mainstream media, by covering otherwise untapped stories and offering more nuanced portrayals of commonly misconstrued topics. Notably, it produced several features on the Black family, a subject of frequent debate in politics and the press.  

The September 1983 issue of about..time was one of several that offered an assessment of Black families in America. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

In 1984, when Rochester celebrated its sesquicentennial, little attention was paid to the experience of the city’s African American population, so about…time published a masterfully researched six-part series on the history of the local Black community, called “Rochester Roots/Routes.”

The first of six issues devoted to the history of Rochester’s African American community. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

While the magazine sought to offer fresh perspectives, it did not aim to proselytize. As Carolyne S. Blount informed the Democrat & Chronicle in 1992: “It’s not lecturing. It’s not being opinionated as such. It’s just showing the assets in our community. And it gives people a chance to tell their own stories.”

By the time the magazine celebrated its 20th anniversary that year, it had a circulation of about 27,000 and copies were being shipped to 47 states.  

While the monthly publication is no longer operational—its last volumes came out in the 2010s—its back issues constitute an invaluable and incomparable resource, offering several decades-worth of coverage of the local African American population as well as Black perspectives of broader topics affecting both their community and the nation as a whole.

President Obama was featured in the magazine’s first issue from 2009. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

As Carolyne S. Blount summarized the magazine’s mission, “It’s about unfinished business. It’s about everybody’s achievements. It also recognizes who we are. It’s about cherishing ourselves. It’s about time.”

Fortunately, the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library has an almost complete run of this unique and important publication. Readers interested in delving through its fascinating pages can make an appointment to do so here.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on March 11, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment